How Vail Resorts Provides "Epic" Customer Service

Imagine you're a new snowboarder or skier having a rough day on the slopes. Suddenly, a Vail Resorts employee glides alongside of you. You wonder if she's going to ask you to get off the mountain so you don't endanger yourself or anyone else. But instead, she asks if you'd like to attend a group skiing lesson that normally costs $160 - free.

Wouldn't that make your day?

Wouldn't you want to tell everyone you know about the experience?

Wouldn't you want to come back to that same resort year after year?

This isn't a fantasy. It happens every day at Vail Resorts, a company that knows how to manage every aspect of the customer experience. And that's not all Vail Resorts does to earn their customer's trust, loyalty, and dollars.

At Vail, it's the special, unexpected things they do that ensures their guests have an experience like no other. The company's "Epic Service Solutions" program empowers employees to quickly resolve any guest service issue and live up to its brand slogan to provide an "Experience of a Lifetime." Vail's customer service representatives are empowered to give away vouchers for free lift tickets, group lessons, and non-alcoholic beverages, ski and snowboard and other services.

Customer service members are instructed to use the "LAST" formula when they give a voucher: Listen. Apologize. Solve. Thank. They are taught that "the conversation is more important than the voucher."

This practice is paying off. Vail Resorts is both the most popular and most expensive company in the industry it dominates. It operates several resorts including Vail, Breckenridge, Beaver Creek, Keystone, Heavenly, Northstar, Kirkwood, Afton Alps, Mt. Brighton, and Arapahoe Basin. In the U.S., they have 5 of the 10 most visited ski resorts and 3 of the top 4. Vail also develops, owns, and manages hotels, condos, restaurants, and stores.

Other companies can learn a lot from Vail Resorts. In fact, it is the most customer-focused company I've seen. Its customer base includes the richest people in the world. Everything they do is based on the customer experience. They understand that they are in the customer service business. They focus on the customer experience.

But it is surprising how few companies actually do this. Very few organizations focus every part of their business around the customer experience. Very few businesses walk the talk. Most companies think "How can we charge as much as we can and deliver the least amount, while causing the customer the most problems?" Most look at short-term gain. They don't appreciate the lifetime value of the customer.

It doesn't have to be that way.

When problems happen, it comes down to compensation. Give the customer something of value. Every organization has something of value it can give to a customer who has experienced a problem. What does your organization manufacture, sell, or provide as a service that costs less than the value it has in the eyes of your customers?

Of course, customer service doesn't have to be just about solving problems. It also can be about creating opportunities. While other destinations charge for taking pictures, Vail Resorts shoots pictures free - and make it easy for guests to post them on Facebook - with the Vail Resorts logo on each photo.

They understand marketing, social media, and the customer experience and have built a brand around Vail Mountain.

John Tschohl is founder and president of the Service Quality Institute in Minneapolis. Described by USA Today, Time, and Entrepreneur as a "customer service guru," he has written several books on customer service and has developed more than 26 customer-service programs that have been distributed worldwide. His strategic newsletter is available online. Contact him at or (952) 884-3311.

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